Shifting From Corporate to Nonprofit: Things to Consider

Fantasizing about a meaningful career at a nonprofit is standard fair for employees whose corporate monkey suit is beginning to rub them the wrong way. Before doing anything rash though, consider the following:


Nonprofits are a diverse lot. The sector is made up of public, private and government organizations that range in size from one to tens of thousands.

Money and Opportunity

Nonprofits are not around to make money, they are out to serve a purpose. But they often require money, and it’s a mistake to think that money doesn’t matter, or isn’t a major source of concern. Many of the larger, successful nonprofits do indeed operate like corporations, so if you’re after a corporate environment with a cause at the bottom line, check out larger and long-standing organizations. The NonProfit Times Top 100 Largest Nonprofits is a good place to start.

If you prefer a smaller organization where you’re likely to have more opportunities to be involved with the mission at the nitty-gritty, ground level, be prepared to sacrifice a heft pay check, predictable raises, over-time pay, job security, and little luxuries like gym memberships.

The average nonprofit worker’s salary is 49k. For a more specific breakdown, see Simply Hired.


Your boss(es): Nonprofits are generally governed by a board. Research the board members, find out if they’re active or if they’re simply figure-head fillers, and review the annual report.

Your clients: Nonprofits serve a range of “clients”. Perhaps it’s your community, children in a far off developing nation with frightening diseases, or maybe the organization was developed to serve a niche group in need – like freelance writers without health insurance. Think about who you want to work with and be honest about your expectations. Do you want to be able to network with the people you serve? Do you want to travel internationally and broaden your view of the world? Do you want to be active within your community? Don’t just sign up to serve anyone. Choose your nonprofit as if you were choosing a partner.

Colleagues: Though people who work in nonprofits are often more passionate about their careers than the typical corporate cubicle-mate, don’t be fooled: nonprofits are rife with office politics, gossip, and drama too.

Once you consider the above, it ought to be fairly clear whether you ought to probe deeper into nonprofit career opportunities, or if you're better off keeping your corporate gig and volunteering on the week-ends.

Photo credit: Amnesty International